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Her Majesty the custard

The blog edited by Enrico Gumirato today tells us about custard and its secrets!

08 September 2020

The queen of pastry: the PASTRY CREAM

Creams have undergone considerable development and use in recent decades as the main element of sweet preparations. The appearance of new recipes such as creams or nemelakas, accompanied by whipped ganaches, mousses and Bavarian creams with increasingly refined and exotic flavours, have given this extraordinary base an incredible leap forward. As mentioned in previous posts, if the sponge cake is the "puffed up King" of pastry making, the cream is undoubtedly the Queen.

Cream is normally made from a mixture of four basic ingredients: milk, sugar, egg yolks and starch. These four ingredients have remained almost intact both in presence and quantity since its origins; all this in order to allow the substantial balance of the product that can be consistent for fried creams or extremely fluid for English creams. However, it should be pointed out that the neutral nature of the cream allows for an infinite number of other flavourings ranging from sweet to bitter to sour; from chocolate to coffee, from hazelnut to strawberry and fruit in general (including exotic fruits), from citrus fruits to aromatic wines such as Marsala.

The preparation of the cream is in itself very simple, but the problems that are often encountered even in laboratories without cream cookers are:

  • a burnt product due to too high a flame or very badly mixed during cooking;
  • the formation of lumps due to incorrect mixing of the solid ingredients (starches, sugar and yolks), or from poor and non-energetic mixing during its solidification in the cooking phase or even if not covered for cooling;
  • the loss of consistency and formation of liquids (syneresis) due to too low a cooking temperature or too prolonged cooking;

a well-calibrated and well-baked cream will look like:

  1. with a smooth, non-gelatinous surface, glossy and softly coloured;
  2. with an even, creamy texture, free from syneresis (loss of liquid);
  3. with a neutral flavour, not acidic, fresh and with a slight vanilla or lemon aroma.

Let's now take a look at the characteristics of the ingredients that make up the cream:

Milk: This is the ingredient that provides the moist fraction and therefore the softness of the cream. Thanks to the small amount of fat it also gives taste. It is advisable to use fresh milk rather than long-life UHT milk because the latter, having undergone a high-temperature sterilisation process, gives the cream an overcooked aftertaste. It is possible to replace milk with water to obtain a lighter and less tasty cream, with liqueur wines such as Marsala or port to obtain creams such as zabajone or with very hydrated fruit purees such as strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, etc...

Fresh cream: It increases the quality of the taste of the cream because it is fatter than milk (milk 4% fat, cream 35% fat). The preparation of creams with cream is also recommended for those products that undergo freezing; in fact, cream reduces the syneresis process, that is, the loss of water by the cream during thawing.

Yolk: Gives taste and consistency to the cream. Taste thanks to the fats it contains and consistency as it starts to harden when heated above 65°C. Due to the lecithin inside it, it gives the cream more creaminess. An extremely important point is that the cream should never be cooked above 85°C, a temperature above which the yolk begins to separate and generate sulphur, resulting in a cream with an overcooked egg smell.

Z Sugar: White beet caster sugar is normally used. The sugar has the purpose of raising the coagulation temperature of the yolks as well as logically giving sweetness. It can be partially replaced by other sweeteners such as raw cane sugar or honey to characterize the taste of the cream in the maximum dose of 10% of the weight of sugar.

Starch: It is the ingredient that generates the final consistency of the cream, that is, the starch granules dispersed in the liquid fraction and subjected to heating progressively hydrate, swell, losing their crystalline structure and form bonds with water molecules. The result is a decrease in free water and an increase in the density/viscosity of the cream. The most commonly used starches are:

  1. rice starch = generates a velvety and glossy cream, cooked at 84/85 C°
  2. corn starch= generates a slightly gelatinous and semi-glossy cream, cooked at 82 C°
  3. wheat flour= generates a sticky, opaque and non-velvety cream. Custard prepared with wheat flour tends to go rancid faster because of the fats it contains. WARNING: cooking at 90/92 C° we will have a cream with an excessive taste of egg, or if we do not reach 90 C° we will have a cream with a floury taste.
  4. starch = to be avoided, it generates a cream without consistency and sticky. Use only for creams to be baked in the oven.

Flavours: vanilla berries and lemon peel par excellence (always organic or grown naturally to avoid having lemons with treated peels) which serve to enhance the flavour of the cream and slightly cover the taste of the yolk.

Salt: is a flavour enhancer so added in small quantities always increases the flavour of the ingredients in the cream

How to make a perfect custard

To finish we come to the preparation. There are various methods of combining the ingredients that make up the cream and then cook them; in this post we will see the classic method as well as the most used:

  • Begin by bringing the milk to a boil together (optional) with the lemon peel without the white part that is bitter. The lemon peel or any other citrus fruit can be inserted grated or in pieces, but the latter must be removed from the cream. Bring the milk to a boil has the sole purpose of speeding up the preparation of the cream, which would be longer using milk at refrigerator temperature and to infuse the aroma of the aroma.
  • You add separately the yolks and sugar mixing them immediately this is to avoid that the sugar, highly hygroscopic (ie that absorbs sugar), incorporates the water of the yolks forming small crystals that then hardly dissolve during cooking.
  • Then add the salt and vanilla.
  • Lastly the starch, which must be sifted to remove any impurities but above all to aerate it so that it is more easily amalgamated with the yolks and sugar. Be careful to mix the starch slowly because it is very volatile.
  • When the milk boils, pour it directly into the batter of yolks, sugar and starch and mix well to combine everything.
  • Now we move on to the most delicate moment of preparation, cooking. It can be done directly over a flame, induction, bain-marie or microwave. Cooking on a direct heat source such as a flame or induction is the best both for speed and for the final result, the important thing is to always do it with a low flame or wattage. Another tip is to mix the cream with a silicone pan licker suitable for cooking. The cream as mentioned above is the thickening, during cooking, of a liquid mixture thanks to the coagulating action of the yolks and gelling of the starch. Stirring the cream is very important, it must be constant and over the entire surface of the pot to prevent the cream from cooking and burning on the bottom. Furthermore, at a temperature of 70°C the cream suddenly changes from a liquid state to a dense one; at this moment it is advisable to stir energetically and for a few seconds, replacing the pan licker with a whisk until the mixture is smooth, homogeneous and glossy. The cooking can be completed by returning to stir with the lick pots and arriving at 84 ° C.
  • Before passing the cream to the cooling phase and conservation is recommended to emulsify it for 20 seconds with a mixer immersion.
  • The cream cooked and emulsified is now poured into a container large enough and with the edges low and covered in contact with the transparent film. It should then be chilled in the refrigerator for optimal storage.

Below you will find four recipes from which you can choose your favourite!

Below you will find four recipes from which you can choose your favourite!

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Blog edited by Enrico Gumirato, pastry chef and trainer

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